By Rich Lynch: It was back on Christmas day that an email from an old friend arrived which provided some sad news. Esther Cole let me know that: “You probably know that Les died in late September. He had been very sick for a long time. Still, he hung on, and was 93 when I kissed him goodbye, the night before he died.”
I actually hadn’t known, and apparently neither had anybody else in science fiction fandom. Esther had not sent an obit to the local newspaper and Ventura is far enough off the beaten track, at least for most fans, that I may have been the first person to learn of Les’s passing. We had been friends for a long time.
It was back in 1991 that I first became acquainted with Lester and Esther Cole. I was doing some research for a new edition of Harry Warner, Jr.’s book A Wealth of Fable, an informal history of 1950s science fiction fandom, and had contacted them to gather additional information about the 1954 World Science Fiction Convention, which was held in San Francisco that year. (Les had been co-chair and Esther the treasurer.) It was two years later, at the 1993 Worldcon (also in San Francisco), that Nicki and I got to meet them – they had attended to participate in several discussion panels about fandom from that fabulous decade of the 1950s. I was moderator for the panel about the `54 Worldcon and I remember that it was highly informative and also really entertaining, so much so that I am hoping that an audio recording will someday surface.
Nicki and I became friends with the Coles at the 1993 Worldcon, and following the convention we persuaded them to contribute essays to our fanzine Mimosa. Esther’s appeared in the 16th issue, in December 1994, and described the half century that she and Lester had been science fiction fans. It was titled, appropriately, “I Married a Science Fiction” and evoked a comment from another fanzine publisher that this was the kind of article he would want to build an issue around. But it was Les’ article, which appeared in the 18th issue in May 1995, which was of even greater historical interest because it provided an inside story about the time, in February 1952, when the Little Men’s science fiction club of Berkeley, California (of which he was President) had staked a claim for a tract of land on the moon. It resulted in mainstream news coverage around the world.
And now he’s gone. Nicki and I had visited the Coles several times at their home in Ventura in the years since that 1993 Worldcon, the last time in the summer of 2018 on our way up the California coast to Worldcon 76 in San Jose. Les had just returned from a short stay in the hospital and was not feeling well, so we spent most of our time talking to Esther. We departed fearing that we may not see Les again, and maybe not Esther either since we don’t get out that way very often. But when I told her gently that I this might be the last time we’d ever cross paths, she just smiled and told me: “We won’t let it be.”
I’m sorry that I won’t be seeing Les again, and I’m missing him. But as for Esther, I’m going to try very much to make sure she is right.